seo basics on chalkboard

This is Part 2 in a series of articles about SEO. In this post you’ll find some tips and the initial steps it takes to begin optimizing your website. If you’re not sure what SEO is or why it matters for your small business, check out the first part of this series – SEO Basics: What it is and Why it’s Important For Your Business

Now that you know SEO is important to the growth of your business, the steps below will show you how to begin optimizing your small business website. These steps will provide a solid foundation for you to continue to build on and can be completed without taking up too much of your time. These exercises will also give you new insights about your business and the market you play in, even beyond just organic search.

1. Identify your Market

  • What search terms do you want to show up in searches for?
  • What are your customers searching for?

The first step in optimizing your site is identifying your market. You already know who your customers are, but online, things change. These changes are in their behavior as well as in their intent behind each search.

Here are a few questions to consider:

  • Are most people who are in need of your services using a mobile device or are they searching from their desktop?
  • Are they looking for your service now or sometime in the future?
  • How might these customers begin to look for your business online?

That last question will help you begin to identify the common search terms that you’ll want to be present for. While you think about your business one way, your customers may be using different terms or queries when looking for it. Finding these search terms and optimizing your site with them will allow you to be shown for searches that use those keywords.

2. Conduct Keyword and Competitive Research

  • Identify the competitiveness of your targeted keywords
  • Look at the existing search results for your queries – are there common competitors?

With a list of potential queries your customers are using to find your business, you can begin to do some research on each. To start, run each of those searches yourself in Google. When you get the results for that query, go through the list and determine if the results shown are relevant to you. Are the brands present competing in the same space as you? If they are, you have a potential keyword to optimize your site with.

Another useful piece of the search engine results page is at the very bottom called Related Searches. Google will often put a selection of keywords related to your current search underneath the ranked listings. This is done to help users find what they are looking for, but it will also help you see how Google interprets your query. If those terms are not related, the query you used may not be a good match. If they are related, you now have a few other terms you could use on your site.

Related searches for 'personal trainer chicago' in the Google SERPs

Sample search result for personal trainer Chicago.
Related searches are still relevant to the original query.

When you have a list of keywords, you’ll then want to find out the actual search volume each one is receiving.

Google offers a free tool through their AdWords platform, Keyword Planner that provides these volume metrics. You will need to create an account to use it, but it provides useful information about how many searches are occurring for your keywords as well as their seasonal trends.

Once your account is set up you can begin searching for your keywords. Enter them into the tool and click Get Ideas.

Find new keywords using Google's keyword planner tool

The next page that loads will provide a table with the search volume for your keywords. In the example below, I am looking for keywords around the topic of a barber shop in New York. The bar chart shows overall search trends for the keywords you are searching for and gives you an idea of the seasonality for your keywords. The table below the bar chart is where you can find the exact match search volume of specific keywords.

With the keyword planner tool you can view the search volume for your keyword selection by month

Some of these queries include the location, and others don’t. At its default setting, the tool provides nationwide search interest and the numbers will reflect that. If you are looking for the volume of searches in a specific geographic area, you can further define where you are and see how many people are looking for your business around you. This will give you a more complete idea of how many potential visitors you can expect to your website.

On the left under Targeting click the small pencil icon. This is where you can set your location.

Change your targeted location in keyword planner for more specific keyword data

For the keyword barber shop, updating the location from United States to New York, New York changed the volume from 201,000 monthly searches to 5,400, respectively.

Once you have pulled the data for your keywords, you can prioritize them based on volume and their relevance to your business. If a keyword returns closely related results compared to what your business offers, and has a large number of monthly searches, you can consider that a quality keyword. The next step will be to use these keywords to optimize your site.

3. Optimize your Meta Data

  • Use your defined keywords in the Title, Meta Description, and Header Tags of the relevant page
  • Create compelling calls to action by highlighting the benefits of what you offer your customers

Your website’s meta data is a collection of tags that are used to signal what the topic of each page on your site is. The common meta tags are the title, meta description, and the header tags.

Both the title and meta description are not shown to site visitors, but are visible to users in the search engines results. This gives you an opportunity to not only optimize your title and meta description, but also use them to drive clicks through a compelling call to action.

Sample meta data from Google showing the related terms in bold

Sample listing from Google with search term keywords in bold

Another feature of the meta data in the search engines is that Google will often bold the terms in the listings that match the search query. In the screenshot above, the query was accept payments paysimple and you can see the related terms are in bold. This is important to remember because searchers will gravitate towards listings that seem the most relevant to their search.

When writing your optimized meta tags, here are a few points to keep in mind –

Title – The length of your title should be kept under 55 characters or so. In the search result listings anything over that will be cut short with an ellipsis. Your title could be longer, but this depends on the letters used. The font Google uses for result listings is proportionally spaced so rather than each letter using the same amount of space, some take up more. Using a 55 character limit will help with your whole title being shown and prevent it from being cut short. Adding in your brand name also helps with recognition and can be added using a | or – as a separator, if space allows.

Meta Description – Meta descriptions also have a general maximum length and should be kept between 150-160 characters long. It should include an overview of what the page is about as well as something that will drive searchers to click your link. It helps to look up the meta descriptions of other sites for the search term you are optimizing for. Knowing the verbiage they are using can help you craft a more compelling call to action that markets your business better than theirs.

Header tags – The header tags are used for the title of each page as well as subheadings throughout the content. Your H1 is akin to the title of a chapter in a book and the other H-tags (H2, H3, etc.) are the sub-content within. On each page you should only have one H1 tag and it should be used for your title. The other header tags can be used multiple times throughout the copy.

4. Optimize your On-Page Content

  • Write your content for the reader, not the search engines
  • Avoid keyword stuffing

With your meta data updated the next step is to optimize the content on each page of your site. As mentioned earlier, you’ll want to define one topic for each page and make sure that the content aligns with that topic. Optimizing a page for more than one topic will only create confusion and prevent you from earning a top spot in the rankings.

Once you have a topic, begin combing through your copy and including related keywords where they make sense. You’ll want to include them in the titles, your headings, and throughout the copy. Keywords should generally be spaced evenly apart within each paragraph as well as throughout the whole page.

When writing your content it is important to always keep in mind that it should be written for the reader and not the search engines. In the past pages could be filled with keywords in random places making the content unreadable. With the algorithm being updated over the years, keyword stuffing and other spammy tactics don’t work anymore. The search engines are better at parsing content and comprehending what a page is about regardless of the number of keywords in the copy or where they are placed. If you have quality content, then you will be ranked accordingly.

Start Optimizing Your Site

With these first steps you should be able to start optimizing your site for search. SEO is a long term process of optimizing and seeing how these changes affect your site, but small steps can be taken over time to create large impacts. Overall, it should be a rewarding pursuit as you begin to increase your exposure to future customers and build up your company’s presence online.

For more tips on how to market your business, check out our article on promoting your business online.

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Matt NeSmith

Matt NeSmith

Matt NeSmith is a search engine specialist at PaySimple and is responsible for organic search strategy. While digital marketing fills his day, evenings and weekends are spent riding a bicycle up mountains, reading up on business strategy, or laying on the garage floor underneath an old car.

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  • This post is very important for me because i am also seo specialist not expert but not bad.

  • Nice post. It will be beneficially for every professional. I must follow the steps.